Ireland – A call has been made by TD Mick Wallace for a more left of center media outlet or network in Ireland. The call came after Mr Wallace made the connection between a massive debt write off to INM (Independent News and Media) owned by Denis O’Brien and the lack of proportionate anti-austerity reporting in Ireland.
TD Mick Wallace speaking to a Commission of Investigation into IBRC states “The fact that the honorable Dennis O’Brien has such massive control over the media, this has to be a worry for our government, it should be a worry for any government.” He continues “…A real strong independent media would be worth it’s weight in gold to this country,” and suggests that “we should maybe look at the idea of sponsoring them.”
In 2014, Denis O’Brien’s INM received a debt write off of €138 million, of that €60 million was written off by state owned banks. This year, INM plan to invest €100 million into the company. INM owns a very large portion of the Irish media with a readership figure of 2.4m people per week with assests worth €256.9 million.
A recent report into Irish newspapers shows their very dominant pro austerity ethos in that only 3% of their opinion pieces and articles could be considered as having an anti-austerity stance. It has been declared that “the media have been relentless cheerleaders for austerity” by UCD Professor Julien Mercille who carried out the study that began in 2008. He found that only 2% of the articles stated a desire for increased public spending, this was the case even though public services had been slashed and people were suffering on a much larger scale than before this period. Support for fiscal consolidation was through the roof with only 10% of opinion pieces and articles against it while 58% supported it. The remaining 32% didn’t express their views for or against fiscal consolidation. The most disturbing find was that 77% of the writers of opinion pieces and articles came from elite political or economic institutions. Shockingly only 9% of the writers were academics, a tiny 7% were members of left organisations and 3% were trade union officials.
While it is widely known that Irish media is made up of mainly mid-right to right publications the need for a more left of center news outlet was highlighted by Mr Wallace during his time to speak at the hearing on the terms of investigation into the state owned IBRC’s special treatment of particular businesses and business people.
In recent weeks Denis O’Brien’s finances have become an issue of public concern. After a very large public outcry the national broadcaster RTE responded by producing a report into the relationship between the businessman and the IBRC, a relationship in which Dennis O’Brien received loans at 1.25% for extended periods of time as well as having debts of hundreds of millions (that we know of so far) written off on numerous occasions. During his purchase of Siteserv alone the Irish tax payer footed the bill of a massive €119 million even though better offers were available. Siteserv was then awarded €184 million in contracts to install meters for Irish Water.
When it became public knowledge that RTE had compiled the report, the Irish people witnessed the full extent of Denis O’Brien’s power over the media. He sought and was granted an injunction against RTE which he then used in an attempt to silence other media outlets from reporting the details about Denis O’Brien and the IBRC made public by TD Catherine Murphy in parliament. Editors and journalists were so afraid of the legal ramifications of publishing Catherine Murphy’s claims that a number of newspapers went to high court seeking clarification of the injunction.
This happened despite the rights of the press to report on open discussions in parliament. The media owned by Denis O’Brien spun the story as a breach of privacy and the discussion of his banking affairs in the parliament as a possible breach of Dáil privilege. The high court has since made it clear that the press is free to report on discussions in the Irish parliament. RTE have also sought to have the injunction lifted claiming the content of the report should be made available to the public, because this issue is of major concern. The outcome is expected to be announced tomorrow.
The media in Ireland is a raw issue for the public and it seems it will remain this way. No Irish news outlet published the connection made by TD Mick Wallace.
More information on Denis O’Brien and the injunction that threatened democracy